ATLANTA — Metro Atlanta hospital leaders are urging the public to 'reject the narrative' that the omicron variant of coronavirus isn't as serious, saying healthcare workers are 'overwhelmed,' 'frustrated,' and hospitals are at capacity amid the surge of cases.
Several leading healthcare systems provided an update on the state of COVID in area communities in a virtual joint press conference Thursday morning.
According to a joint statement, the briefing was to provide "an urgent and unified call to action to address the ongoing pandemic."
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory Healthcare, Grady Health System, Northeast Georgia Health System, Piedmont Healthcare and Wellstar Health System spoke on Zoom at 10 a.m.
Dr. Robert Jansen, Chief Medical Officer and Chief of Staff at Grady Health System said they are running at about 110% capacity right now.
"We've had to divert ambulances over the last several weeks because of the huge number of patients coming in," Dr. Jansen said.
Back in December, these systems issued their first joint statement addressing the surge in case numbers across the region due to the delta variant. At the time, all health systems said they were experiencing a rise in COVID symptoms and diagnoses among adults and children, and up to a 200% increase in hospitalizations.
Now, Chief Nurse Executive at Emory Healthcare Sharon Pappas, said their staff is just as exhausted as they were at that time. Not only are they receiving a high volume of COVID patients, but she said they also have people coming into the hospital for unrelated reasons that then have to receive additional treatment after testing positive for the virus.
An overload of patients in emergency rooms is causing long wait times, increased COVID protocols, and stressed hospitals. She said care team members are faced with anger and verbal criticism from those they are providing the care to.
"I hear the frustration in our nurses' voices and I see it on their faces," Pappas said.
Dr. Jayne Morgan Executive Director of the COVID-19 Task Force at Piedmont Healthcare said people who are symptomatic, yet denying they have COVID-19 just because they haven't taken a test are part of the problem.
"A lack of a test does not equate to a lack of infectivity," Dr. Morgan said.
The healthcare system leaders stressed the importance of getting vaccinated, wearing medical-grade masks, and continuing to practice COVID safeguards.
Dr. Morgan also addressed the "big concern" of people getting infected with COVID-19 on purpose with the thought it will help the country get to herd immunity quicker.
“That is a terrible idea," Dr. Morgan said. "We have staffing issues. We have therapeutic shortages. We are triaging care. This is not the time to take a risk like that with your life.”
This webinar was the first time that hospital leaders have come together since the start of the new year, and the dominance of the omicron variant in the U.S.
The hospitals also urged people to only seek emergency care and facilities when it is appropriate. The agencies said their demand for emergency rooms increased significantly for both "emergent and non-emergent situations," including those just seeking COVID testing without needing further care or treatment.